Scottish trawlers blockade port over EC fishing quotas: Fishermen say they face bankruptcy while the French land catches. James Cusick reports

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The Independent Online
TWENTY fishing boats blockading the Sutherland port of Lochinver to stop French supertrawlers using the harbour said yesterday they would stay 'for as long as it takes' to highlight the failures of the EC's Common Fisheries Policy.

One of the fleet of 11 French ships that use Lochinver as their base for deep sea fishing is still trapped. The other French vessels cannot enter the port.

Ten Lochinver vessels were joined by boats from Buckie, Helmsdale, Wick and Lossiemouth on Monday night. The fishermen claim that while the French are entitled to fish and land catches because their quotas have not been used up, many of the Scottish fleet are facing bankruptcy because their cod and haddock quotas ran out last month. Black market catches are understood to be widespread among Scottish vessels.

Graham Thompson, a Lochinver skipper, said: 'The bulk of Scottish fishermen have taken about as much as they can. Many of us are tied up, unable to fish as Christmas approaches, and debt is mounting up.'

Their protest is likely to cause embarrassment in government ranks with the European summit in Edinburgh days away. Sir Hector Munro, the Scottish fishing minister, pleaded with the men to 'have patience' until new quotas come in on 1 January.

There are also 26 Spanish vessels operating out of Ayr. The 'Spanish Armada' is registered in Scotland and ships catches by road to Spain. Their boats are generally larger and more efficient than their Ayr competitors. Taking advantage of the rich fishing grounds off the Hebridean west coast they save four days sailing by using Ayr.

However, there is resentment of the armada, with many local boats unable to go to sea because of used-up quotas.

Sir Hector said he understood the frustration, but added: 'We fished our quota by November.' He criticised the Scottish producers' organisations for not ensuring that fishing was spread out over the year.

The French have been using Lochinver for over a year. However, with Scottish fishermen planning a demonstration in Edinburgh over the weekend, and the Council of Fisheries Ministers scheduled to debate changes to the common fisheries policy in Strasbourg on 19 December, the Lochinver protest has clearly been timed for publicity.

Winnie Ewing, the Scottish National Party's MEP for the Highlands and Islands, described the blockade as 'totally justified'. She said: 'Our fishing industry is being wiped out by the British Government's neglect.'

Ronnie Gordon, a Lossiemouth skipper, said that even if quotas doubled it would be too late. 'We want to see an end to the common fisheries policy. That is the bottom line.'

(Photograph omitted)